The most natural-sounding videos are carefully scripted

If you’re shooting a video and want comments from company officials, customers, and other stakeholders to sound completely natural, make sure you script them before they say a word.

Think it’s counterintuitive that the best way to make the people in your videos sound unrehearsed is to put words in their mouths and have them rehearse? If you’ve wondered why your videos don’t sound quite as fluid as others you’ve seen, a lack of scripting is likely the cause.

The use of video has exploded over the past several years, so much so that YouTube is widely regarded as the world’s second-largest search engine (after that one that starts with a G). Companies and organizations have rushed to shoot videos of their own and post them on websites and social media. Some are pretty good; most are tolerable at best.

At the same time, the attention span of audiences has grown ever shorter. A couple years ago, experts were claiming the ideal video was two and a half minutes long. Now less than a minute seems to be the preference, with about 30 seconds ideal. While the length is largely determined by the content, most videos are significantly longer than they need to be.

How does that happen? Typically, when creating a video, we want to feature someone who will be an impressive spokesperson. So when we decide to create a video about the improvements to our patented veeblefetzer, we choose George the engineer, because he’s the brains behind those advances and nobody knows more about them.

Unfortunately, anyone who’s ever been in a meeting with George knows he can’t explain anything briefly, at a non-engineer’s level, or without long pauses. So our clip of George’s explanation ends up being ten minutes of complicated conversation using words most people don’t know. When we edit out his pregnant pauses, we’re left with nine minutes nobody understands.

We assume people are smart, so we figure we can just press the record button and let them rip. Yet few people can deliver a concise, cogent message on demand. Most likely, there will be pauses, stammers, and probably a few “let me reword that” comments. Instead of sounding definitive, the video becomes disjointed.

Part of it is simple human anxiety. People who are perfectly comfortable explaining something to a large group like a workshop audience suddenly get tongue-tied when one small lens points their way. If they’re surrounded by other paraphernalia like lighting and microphones, the nervousness increases.

Plus, most people think while they’re talking. When explaining something to a colleague or friend, how often do you stop and reframe what you’re going to say or pause to think of an example? Since that person knows you, they’ll remain patient. But on a video people watch again and again?

If you want the stars of your video to convey the right information concisely and understandably … and do it at a pace that suits today’s increasingly impatient audiences … the key is creating a script they can memorize and practice several times before you start recording.

One of the best ways to develop a script is to interview the people who will appear in the video. Ask them what messages they plan to discuss and to describe what they expect to say. If you’re not completely clear about what they’re saying, ask follow-up questions. Then, once you have a solid understanding of the intended message, draft it in as few words as possible. Read it aloud a few times and refine it. As you hear what you’ve scripted, you may think of better ways to say it.

You should also consider how they talk. Some people speak quickly, with clipped sentences. Others tend to drag things out to a leisurely pace. Your script should match the natural patterns and rhythms of their speech. If they’re given to speaking in short bursts, write fragments. If they’re known for their sense of humor, weave some smiles into what you write. Your goal is to capture their message in a way that makes them sound perfect.

Finally, before you shoot the video, rehearse it several times. The more times they repeat what you’ve written into the script, the more comfortable they’ll become with the phrasing. Eventually, it will start to sound more natural and confident. That’s when to turn the camera on. Here again, don’t assume they’ll get it right in a single take. Instead, have them repeat the message several times, and use the best one.

When they watch the finished version, they’ll be proud of how smart they sounded. And you’ll be able to take pride in having created a compelling and effective video.